Ruling

Resolution Statement 20000-17 Stuart v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      8th February 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Resolution Statement 20000-17 Stuart v The Daily Telegraph

1. Christopher Stuart complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Rambling’ vicar axed by Church for adultery” published on 28 October 2017. The article was also published online headlined “’Rambling Reverend’ banned from practising after affair with parishioner,” on 27 October 2017.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been banned from practising as a Church of England minister after admitting he had cheated on his wife with a parishioner. It stated that he had previously claimed that he resigned to spend more time with his wife and included a statement from a spokesperson from the Diocese of Worcester, which confirmed he had resigned and accepted a two year probation from the ministry as a priest.

3. The complainant said that the article gave the misleading impression that these events had recently taken place, when in fact he had resigned 6 months previously and disciplinary proceedings had concluded 3 months later. He said the article was inaccurate as he had told his congregation the reason for his resignation and had not tried to hide what had happened, which he did not believe was made clear in the article. He also said that it was inaccurate for the article to state that his affair had been with a member of the congregation.

4. The complainant also said that prior to publication journalists and photographers had attended his address and had knocked the door every thirty minutes for a six hour period seeking comment. He said he and his wife had stayed inside and pulled the curtains, which he thought made it clear that they did not wish to speak. He said this conduct amounted to harassment in breach of Clause 3.

5. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the article made clear that the purpose of the article was to report of the complainant’s ban, and that while it had not stated the date of his resignation, it would have been obvious to readers that this had significantly predated the ban. It said that initially the complainant had told his congregation that he was resigning to support his wife, and had not, initially, admitted it was due to an affair.

6. The newspaper strongly denied that its reporters had been involved in any behaviour that could be considered harassment, and emphasised that reporters are entitled to seek responses from people who feature in the news. Nevertheless, the newspaper apologised for any distress the complainant had experienced. It said none of the reporters were employed by the Telegraph, and they had received the story form a reputable news agency. It said the complainant had made no request to desist, and therefore there was no breach of Clause 3.

7. To try and resolve the complaint, the newspaper offered to publish the following correction:

Further to our report “‘Rambling’ vicar axed by Church for adultery” (Oct 28) we have been asked to make clear that Dr Chris Stuart resigned as a vicar in April 2017, three months prior to his suspension. He voluntarily confessed to his affair, which was not revealed by a parishioner as the article could have been taken to suggest.

Relevant Code provisions

8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i)The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion, must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and- where appropriate- an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

Clause 3 (Harassment)

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Mediated outcome

9. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

10. Following IPSO’s intervention, the newspaper offered to amend the online article to delete any reference to “a member of the congregation,” to send the complainant and his wife a private letter of apology for any distress they had experienced, and to publish a correction as a footnote to the online article and in print stating:

Further to our report “‘Rambling’ vicar axed by Church for adultery” (Oct 28) we have been asked to make clear that Dr Chris Stuart resigned as a vicar in April 2017, three months prior to his suspension. He voluntarily confessed to his affair, which was not revealed by a parishioner as the article could have been taken to suggest. The woman was not a member of his congregation.

11.  The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

12. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 13/11/2017

Date complaint concluded: 11/01/2018